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Malawi officially suspends gay sex arrests

Malawi officially suspends gay sex arrests

Malawi has officially suspended arresting people for gay sex, the justice minister has said.

Janet Chijaya-Banda has said the law, which punishes homosexuality with up to 14 years in prison, is effectively no longer used.

She was in front of the UN Human Rights Committee to answer question about the status of the homophobic law last week.

In her response, Banda said police have been told to not arrest anyone for being gay while the country’s Law Commission prepares to review its constitutionality.

Human rights activists argue the law clearly violates Malawi’s constitutional protections for citizens regardless of their sex, race, tribe or religion.

The High Court is focused on a review of three men – Amon Champyuni, Matthew Bello and Musa Chiwisi – who were convicted in 2011 and are serving sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years for gay sex.

In January, the court’s deliberations was delayed after the Supreme Court was told it had to make a decision on whether the High Court could rule on the law’s constitutionality. It has yet to make a decision.

Arrests under Malawi’s anti-gay laws have been reportedly suspended since November 2012, but it has not been made official until now.

According to local media, Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara issued a moratorium on arrests and persecutions. He later denied making that decision.

He allegedly said: ‘If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government.

‘It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.’

Debate surrounding the homophobic law has been going on since 2009 when trans woman Tiwonge Chimbalanga and her openly gay partner Steven Monjeza were arrested for holding a traditional engagement ceremony.

The pair was sentenced to 14 years with hard labor as a ‘horrendous example’ in 2010.

The couple were pardoned by then President Bingu wa Mutharika, who had described the couple as ‘insane’ and the ceremony ‘satanic’, 11 days after extreme international criticism.